Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Despite its Italian-sounding name, Antonino is an old German community. At the close of the Nineteenth-Century these thrifty, industrious immigrants flocked to the High Plains around Hays, Kansas, and established their own communities. When I lived here in the late Seventies, I still recall German being spoken in the supermarkets.
I biked to Antonino today. One way is maybe eight miles but the day was gorgeous and the wind was behavin' and when those two come together I ain't complainin.' Just west of town is the community cemetery. Here I stopped, opened the little gate, then rested and watered in the shade of a large statue depicting the crucifixion. Like the blood of Christ above, the sweat of Tom dropped down to the bricks below.

Perched on a gentle slope above the Smoky Hill River valley, this cemetery is a large one, I judge, surrounded on one side by a fancy wrought iron fence and on the others by the ubiquitous post rocks (top, limestone posts cut from the ground to make up for the lack of wood on the plains). But it does seem odd. In that large plot of land--maybe 3-4 acres--only a hundred or so souls rest in peace, and these in the middle, taking up only a fraction of the space. Obviously, the city fathers long ago looked to a day when Antonino would be a booming, bustling hive of industry, commerce and agriculture with plenty of dead folks to fill the plots. But that day never came. Barely a crossroads today, no more than fifty souls call the village home. The dead easily outnumber the living.

the names on these New World stones trace back to the earliest beginnings of the Old World. Touchingly, separated from the adults, a children's cemetery. The two dozen markers here, many made of metal, appear to be done by hand, as if it were the last loving act a heart-broken father could perform for his child.

The plain surrounding the cemetery is almost treeless. I walked about this wind-swept ridge, looking at the markers, avoiding the little cacti that refuse to die after a thousand mowings. Chewing on some buffalo grass that grows here reminded me of oats. A flock of small birds passed high overhead. I had forgotten that wonderful whooshing sound so many working wings make.

Some of the stones have little round photos of the deceased.

"Dale F. Rohr, November 19, 1948-June 5, 1969."
Dark suit...thin black tie....innocent looks...his high school graduation photo. One year younger than me, we look nothing alike....but then again we do.

An ambulance speeds by on the lonely little highway in front of the cemetery, lights flashing but siren silent. The irony.